The PlayStation 4 will finally be announced on 20th February. Sony shocked the gaming industry with a mysterious trailer that teased the reveal last night, confirming that it will be hosting a PlayStation Meeting in New York City later this month. But while the imminent announcement is understandably exciting, there are a number of pitfalls that we feel the platform holder must avoid if it wants its next generation system to succeed.
$599 US Dollars
We’ve always took issue with the insinuation that new consoles should be available at a mainstream price point from the moment that they launch. Sony’s hardware is almost always designed with longevity in mind, offering the option to unlock new markets as the product matures. However, while we don’t think that the PS4 necessarily needs to be cheap on launch day, it must sidestep the flaws of the PlayStation 3, and at least be affordable at release.
We suspect that the magic number will be around the $399 price point, a reasonable reduction on the PlayStation 3’s memorable $599 sticker. With the global economy in such a dire position, Sony may struggle to convince consumers to stump up any more, and as the PlayStation Vita evidences, future support depends on the system making a decent dent in the market at release. It’s a balancing act between designing a markedly improved piece of hardware, and keeping costs low.
The positive news is that the PS4 won’t have to deal with superfluous extras such as the CELL processor and a burgeoning Blu-ray drive. It’s apparently taking advantage of off-the-shelf components, which should lower the console’s overall cost. That should result in a net win for both consumers and Sony, especially as the latter can’t afford to swallow a big loss.
Sony tried a novel strategy with the Vita, but it ultimately didn’t pay out. As opposed to having a fairly barren release catalogue with a smattering of heavy-hitters, the platform holder instead opted to release everything it had in one swift swoop. Initially, the strategy worked, but once the novelty of the launch had died down people began to ask what was on the horizon. The answer, unfortunately for the handheld, was not a lot.
In hindsight, it really doesn’t make sense to have so much software available on launch day. Titles end up cannibalising each other, and the inevitable drought leads to bad press. If the PS4 is going to succeed, Sony must take advantage of the console’s full launch window, peppering the market with new releases every couple of weeks. The console will need a couple of tent-pole launch titles, of course – but it will also require a good selection of content for early adopters to look forward to.
Thankfully, the platform holder has more than enough developers in its stable to make the system’s first year on the market something to remember. With Guerrilla Games, Sucker Punch, Sony Santa Monica, Media Molecule, Ready at Dawn, Naughty Dog, and Quantic Dream all rumoured to be working on next generation projects, we doubt that there’ll be any shortage in the software stakes.
For a company that’s always been criticised for its anti-consumer adoption of proprietary technology, the PS3 was alarmingly open. The system allowed you to connect any headset that you wanted, increase your storage capacity with a standard laptop hard-drive, and even install Linux. Granted some of those features got removed as the console matured, but it remains one of the more open options on the market today. And the PS4 must maintain that philosophy.
There’s nothing wrong with Sony releasing and promoting officially branded items, but they mustn’t be the only option. This is an area where the Vita has arguably struggled, with prohibitively expensive memory cards denting its commercial appeal. There’ll be an unnecessary backlash if the PS4 follows a similar path, which could be easily avoided.
There’s no doubt that the manufacturer will have been eyeing Microsoft’s expensive proprietary hard-drives with envy over the past six years, but it must resist the temptation to follow its competitor’s lead. In exchange for the lost profit, the company will earn the goodwill of consumers – and the importance of that should not be overlooked.
The PS3 was a notoriously challenging system for developers to work on. For first-party studios, that wasn’t a particularly big deal, as the likes of Naughty Dog and Guerrilla Games could dedicate their time to getting the most out of the machine. But for third-parties, it was a big issue, resulting in lazy and noticeably inferior ports. It’s a problem that the PS4 must address.
Judging by the system’s implementation of off-the-shelf components, the console should be much easier to work with out of the gate. But the platform holder must really facilitate that with great development tools and plenty of external support. The quality of third-party content is paramount, and while parity will depend on the specifications of Microsoft’s machine, the manufacturer must at least ensure that it provides an attractive environment for developers to work with.
Sony promised that it would address firmware updates with the Vita, but so far the niggling issue has persisted. Sure, it doesn’t take quite as long to download and install the improved software, but the problem is still there. If you’re eager to play a game, but haven’t updated your system just yet, you’re forced to wait. And that downtime inevitably leads to irritated Twitter messages, which ultimately result in bad press.
To its credit, PlayStation Plus has solved many of these issues, allowing you to automatically overhaul the system software overnight. But while this is a convenient workaround, it would be better if the platform holder limited the frustrations associated with the updates in the first place. Background downloads and shorter install times would certainly help, but we can’t help but feel that less firmware updates in the first place should be the ultimate target.
At the end of the day, it’s still just a minor issue – but updates on PlayStation platforms have become a running joke. If the manufacturer can find a way to neutralise those criticisms, then it will certainly help to pave the success of its impending device.
What do you think are the primary pitfalls that the PS4 must avoid? Do you agree with our suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below.